“Think about it . . . deeply. Then forget it. And and idea will jump up in your face.”
—Don Draper, Mad Men
The creative process can be used to achieve any goal, whether business or personal. Once you have a clearly defined goal or problem follow these steps:
1. Research. Ask a lot of questions. Find out how others have solved similar problems. Identify your constraints (time, budget, space). Read up on pertinent topics that you are not an expert on. But remember that you don’t have to become an expert. The beginner’s mind is an advantage in creative problem solving.
2. Generate. Start writing or sketching as many ideas as you can. Quantity counts over quality in this stage. Withhold all judgment and fear. Nothing is too silly or stupid to put in your sketchbook.
3. Incubate. Take your conscious mind off the project and allow your unconscious mind to work. Do something that you can lose yourself in. Openness, calm, freedom, playfulness, and losing track of time are characteristics of the creative state of mind.
4. Execute. Take a few of your best ideas and make models. The form that these drafts take depends on the final goal, but they will be prototypes using your skill and tools to test out your ideas. Some ideas that looked great on paper appear weak when executed, or just don’t work for some reason. That is why you have a handful of ideas in play during this phase. Make modifications and try variations as you work.
5. Refine. You will have produced one or several comprehensive models, and perhaps variations on each of those. Now you present them to clients, colleagues, or patrons. If this is a personal project, you step back and look at your work with detachment. Every comment or suggestion should be taken seriously, even though your tendency is to defend your work. This is your chance to take it to a higher level.
Remember to copy from the masters! If you want to paint like Van Gogh, start by copying him. You will find that your own individual self shines through anyway. Being more creative can be fun, educational, and even life-changing.